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    Carrot Cake and Romans 8:28

    

     The passages below are taken from Thomas A. Shaw & Dwight A. Clough’s book “Amazing Faith,” published in 2003 by Moody Publishers.

 

     I looked up at the ceiling of the hospital and said, “Three strikes and You’re out, God. This isn’t funny anymore. I don’t like what You’re doing.”

     I felt betrayed.

     All my life, I tried to obey God. And what do I get in return for my obedience?

 

              . . . .

 

     Strike one. I was driving home from church one lovely October day. The driver of a gas truck missed a stop sign and ran right through the intersection, hitting me. It all happened so fast that I had no chance to avoid the accident. The impact of the truck crushed my car. I survived the accident with minor back injuries. Nothing major; I went away singing, “God is so good.”

     Strike two. In November my gynecologist said, “Your mammogram shows a mass in your left breast.” Exploratory surgery was necessary. The reports came back; the lump was benign. So, I was still singing, God is so good.

     Strike three. Three months later, on a cold, snowy February day, the children took the toboggan off the wall in the garage and said, “Let’s go to the forest preserve and toboggan.” So we spent the afternoon to tobogganing. I stood at the top of the hill and watched them because I was nursing the sore back from my car accident in October. I could still feel the aftereffects of the accident---it felt like porcupine quills going up and down my back. It wasn’t major pain, just discomfort.

     On the last run of the day, the children said, “C’mon, Mom!” I decided at that moment that I didn’t want to grow old standing at the top of the hill watching my kids have fun. My husband was already on the toboggan with the children, and I plopped down with them. With four of us on the toboggan, we started downhill. Instead of going down the ramp and gliding onto the frozen lake, our weight threw us off course. We cut our own path down the hill. At the bottom, we dropped onto the lake with a great deal of force. The abrupt landing broke my back.

     I was in the hospital for fourteen days. Then I returned home to recover from the fracture of my L1 vertebrae. That meant I needed to stay flat on my back for two more months.

     I went home, and pain went home with me. I didn’t know what to do with all the pain. I couldn’t think straight. It was a constant distraction. I couldn’t concentrate on anything or anybody but the pain. It was as though I was locked inside myself and couldn’t get beyond myself. Physical pain gave way to emotional and spiritual pain.

     God let me down. He has hurt me. Look at all I’ve done for Him. What is He doing to me? There was no room in my thoughts to remember God’s faithfulness in the past. My charmed life was over. In the past, the Lord had always parted the waters as He did with the Red Sea and allowed me to live a golden life. I grew up as one girl among four boys---always the queen bee. I had a great marriage and two wonderful children. My personality earned me lots of friends. I had five books in print and had published a number of magazine articles. My husband, Mark, was developing a dynamic youth ministry. In the past, God was good. Now, He had let me down. And feeling let down by God was devastating.

     Gone was my ability to control anything. I couldn’t control what we were having for dinner. I couldn’t control what my kids were doing, wearing, or where they were going. I couldn’t perform the functions that I had always performed as a mother.

     Instead, I was being mothered and cared for by other people---my mother, my husband, my children, my friends, my church. In the past, my strong personality drove my accomplishments. Whatever I determined to do---I was able to do. But now I could not do anything. Everybody else did everything for me.

     I hated it. I resented people coming into my bedroom, cleaning my bathrooms, and bringing in food. I finally had a dear friend point out to me, “You really have a hard time letting people help you, don’t you? You’re usually the one bringing the casseroles.”

    Wrapped in the cocoon of my own suffering, I distanced myself from God, from family, and from friends. I didn’t pray, except to say, You are going to do what You want with me anyway, so it doesn’t matter what I do. I didn’t know what my children were doing in school. I didn’t talk to Mark about what was happening in his ministry. I didn’t want anybody interrupting my self-imposed isolation.

     By God’s grace, my husband and my children were very patient. The kids came to my room, where we had dinner on my bed every night. Mark brought up a big tray. They all lined up at the foot of my bed, bringing papers from school, and just kept talking to me. Mark told me what was happening at church. Their persistent love was present even though I wasn’t listening. I was so consumed with my own misery that I literally couldn’t get out of myself.

    

              . . . . .

 

     One Sunday morning, Mark and the children went off to church and left the radio playing. A preacher came on and had the nerve to start speaking on Romans 8:28 (NIV), “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I wasn’t in any mood for a radio preacher! I especially wasn’t in any mood for a radio preacher to talk to me about Romans 8:28, because good things were not happening to me. The car accident, the benign tumor, the toboggan accident---how could you call that good?

     But it hurt too much to get out of bed and turn the radio off. So I lay there and listened to what he had to say. I have no idea who this preacher was, but he told a story that God used to change my life.

     The day before he preached this sermon, his wife was baking in the kitchen. She was making a carrot cake from scratch. He walked into the kitchen and looked at the cake ingredients. Every one of those ingredients, by itself, would taste awful---flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda. Even sugar, though a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, is not something you eat by the spoonful. Almost everything she put in, except the carrots, was awful all by itself.

     But the outcome was very different than the ingredients. The preacher said, “I went away and came back forty-five minutes later. Then I smelled the appetizing aroma. Minutes later, I sank my teeth into moist, lush, delicious carrot cake.

     “This,” he said, “is what Romans 8:28 is all about! Each ingredient of our lives, by itself, may be distasteful. It may be painful. We may wish to spit it out.

     “But,” he added, “I’m here to tell you that God is making carrot cake out of your life. So, no matter what your bed of affliction, or no matter what the hardship you’re facing, it’s going to produce carrot cake.”

     The tears flowed as my heart softened.

     I had misunderstood the blessings of God. I had been complaining about the ingredients. His mind was on the cake. On that Sunday morning, flat on my back with the radio on, I realized for the first time that God’s grace includes the good and the bad.

In the past, I had lived in a fantasy world where God’s blessings meant things went my way. Now I discovered that pain is part of God’s love. That is a difficult concept, one I continue to grapple with.

    So, I prayed, with a softened heart, Your love for me can include pain.

     This paradigm shift made it easier to accept help from other people. Being needy is a humbling experience, but it was where God wanted me to be. This was another part of the carrot-cake lesson, this humbling that I felt was an opportunity to learn to allow people to come around me in my time of need and do for me. Allowing this opened me up to God’s love, because then I could receive it.

     My life up to this point had been so much about doing. Doing, and doing well, defined me. I was a perfectionist. I let perfectionism drive me and pressure everyone around me. I had to be the perfect homemaker, the perfect wife, the perfect writer, the perfect mother. My perfectionism once put me in the hospital emergency room. I had been furiously typing on a book manuscript, trying to get it right, when I collapsed in exhaustion.

     The doctor said, “What have you been doing?”

     I said, “I haven’t been doing anything really, just trying to finish up a book project.”

     He replied, “Put it away. Don’t look at it for three weeks. Stop!”

     But I said, “I’m already two months late. I can’t put it away.”

     He said, “Put it away!” He gave me something to calm me down and sent me home to rest. That was the result of my perfectionism.

But now, my back was broken. The journey through this pain and weakness made me realize that I was broken in other places as well. I wanted God to heal my back. But He was also busy healing my need to be perfect.

    A powerful lesson from my childhood came back to me with fresh meaning.

 

              . . . .

 

     My brain-damaged brother was eighteen months older than I. Growing up, I knew early on that Jimmy was different, but I didn’t understand why. I got impatient with him because he never could catch on to what I wanted him to do when we were playing. However, no matter how I treated him, he was the most loving-hearted person I ever met. As a six-year-old, this grated on me; it bugged me that he was so kind.

     One day, I was overwhelmed with my sin and the contrast between Jimmy’s kindness and my impatience. I went to my mother and asked, “Why is Jimmy so nice?

     She smiled. “Jimmy has asked Jesus to come into his life and help him be kind. Jimmy has a helper, and that helper is Jesus.”

     I went away and sat on a log out on the edge of the woods. I thought about it for a while and decided I needed a helper to make me nicer and kinder. When I told my mother, she took her Bible and pointed me to verses of Scripture that talked about God loving me, and it suddenly clicked that Jimmy was kind of like God. Jimmy loved me no matter what I did. That’s how God loved me, no matter how bad I was.

     God used that to bring me to Himself. I was born again that day thanks to Jimmy’s Christlike example.

 

              . . . . .

 

     I could no longer be the perfect mother, the perfect writer, the perfect wife, the perfect anything. But God still loved me, even though I was incapable of pleasing Him with my perfection.

     As long as I was doing, I was in control. Now I could not do, and I had no control.

     Suddenly I understood that I was never really in control. Somebody else is in charge of my life.

 

                                    . . . .

 

     Our mind is on the ingredients; God’s mind is on the carrot cake. God sent a vine to shade Jonah from the hot desert sun. Jonah was happy. God sent a worm to eat the vine. Jonah was angry. Should I accept the vine from God and not the worm?

     God is ultimately in charge. What comes into my life---the good and the bad---comes under the umbrella of the sovereignty of God. Understanding this defines my life and gives me the ability to talk to people where they really live.

     The brokenness I experienced changed the way I write, it changed the way I deal with people, and it brought realism to my life and a proper understanding of what God’s blessings mean. I approach life now with a clear awareness of my own vulnerability. I write and I teach more realistically, because the fantasy world is gone. I serve in our church as director of women’s ministries. I love the work. I love the women. Many of them have deep hurts. Many of them are broken just like I am. I understand now that brokenness is everywhere. Others are broken just as I am. God is fixing our broken places, and He uses His Word and other people in that process.

    Ernest Hemingway once said, “Sooner or later life breaks most everyone, but some are strong in the broken places.” This rang true for me, because the strongest place in my back today is my L1 vertebrae, where my back was broken. And the strongest places in my life are the places where I’ve come to God and said, “I’m broken in this area and I need You to mend me.” As I open myself up to His Word and to the counsel of others, growth happens and I am healed.

     God doesn’t owe me anything. Everything that I receive from Him, the good and the bad, is a gift of grace. When I don’t expect anything from Him, then I’m thankful for everything He gives me. Coming to grips with brokenness helps me live a thankful life. I truly believe that. I’m not perfect, but God, by His grace, is teaching me.

 

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Ruth (Hollinger) Senter has written eleven books and has contributed to magazines such as The Christian Reader, Decision, Christian Life, Moody, Christianity Today, and Discipleship Journal. Her husband, Mark, is a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Illinois). They have two grown children. Ruth attended the Undergraduate School 1962—65. (115-123)

 

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